Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals | Study Guide

Immanuel Kant

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Immanuel Kant | Biography


Family and Education

Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, the capital city of Prussia, on April 22, 1724. The son of devout parents, Kant was not apparently destined for a remarkable life, and indeed, by most standards, he did not live one. With the exception of one trip about 60 miles outside of Königsberg, Kant spent his entire life in the city.

The fourth of nine children, Kant was the oldest to survive. Thanks to the kindness of a local pastor, he was educated at the Pietist school, where he was educated in biblical doctrine and the importance of individual piety. There, he developed a love for the Latin classics. Later, as a student at the University of Königsberg, Kant was interested in mathematics and science. He wrote a book on the problem of kinetic forces and apparently planned an academic career. He was forced to withdraw, however, after his father's death.

Kant spent the next nine years serving as a tutor for several families, after which a friend helped him return to his studies. He subsequently wrote three scientifically oriented dissertations, and his first teaching assignments were in mathematics and physics.


Over the years Kant was exposed to a number of philosophical theories, including those of German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Scottish philosopher David Hume. Also during this time Kant's reputation as a teacher and writer increased. He began to lecture widely on a number of subjects, including philosophy. And, although he did not secure a professorship at the University of Königsberg, he remained there as a lecturer, even turning down offers from other prestigious institutions. After serving 15 years as a lecturer, he was named chair of the Department of Logic and Metaphysics. It was during this period that Kant produced his critical works, the most revolutionary of which is the Critique of Pure Reason (1781).


During Kant's era philosophy, a term attached to fields of study that have since broken off into separate disciplines such as physics and psychology, was used to denote theoretical work. For example, in his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, published in 1687, English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton engages intellectually with thinkers such as the French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes. Moreover, because the nature of philosophy is such that its concerns range over any human inquiry, it is not surprising that thinkers prior to and during Kant's time would be occupied by topics ranging from politics to astronomy, from art to mathematics. Consequently, the sort of systematic philosophy Kant develops has had far-reaching influence. In particular he challenges both the empiricism and rationalism of his predecessors and establishes a new systematic way of thought that relies first on the critique and second on the separation between the theoretical and the pragmatic. When he died on February 12, 1804, his legacy was ensured.
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